I recently finished writing a book. For the first time in years, my weekends, nights, and early mornings weren’t being spent obsessing over finishing a book. So I cleaned the kitchen, did the laundry, tended to the stack of ignored paperwork, and got seriously depressed.
I thought the completion of a major project would result in a feeling of elation, but by placing that one last period on the page, I created a vast empty space in my life. I didn’t know what to do with myself, especially the unexpected sensation of feeling lost and depressed. It turns out I’m not the only one who has experienced the post-project-completion blues.
Writer and film director Jeffery Lando expressed exactly what I felt when I spoke with him. He express the feeling when he completes a movie, saying, “All of a sudden I have nothing to do, and there is a wave of exhaustion that claims me and I become very moody and a complete asshole.”
This is how he explains his creative process while making movies, and the emotions that accompany it.
There is a journey you go through as a creator; after making movie after movie after movie, it has become very familiar. There are highs and lows, and now I can predict exactly when they will happen. You have to get through the despair of seeing that what you created isn’t what you hoped, and everything’s fucked.
And that is where a lot of people crash and burn, because they can’t survive that.
But if you can get through that stage of fixing and polishing your cut, then this new joy appears, and you want to show it to people, and then once you start getting feedback it can be devastating again. It’s a roller coaster. But none of it has anything to do with reality, it’s just your head.
Then there is a moment when you are working on a project and it feels endless, it feels like it could go on forever, and like it’s never going to end. And then there is an end, and then you start the next project— and you are in whole new universe.
In the evolution of the project, there are all of these states, and they are all nonsenses, and while I still go through it, it doesn’t mean as much any more. Some people think I am my feelings, that’s just wrong. You have your focus of your personality in the wrong place. The emotions are just an aspect to the experience, so you can say, ‘Oh look, there’s that feeling again.’ Now when I feel the euphoria after looking at the dailies now, rather than get carried away by the sensation, I just think, that’s bullshit.
To further understand how to master emotional turmoil that comes with writing a first book, I spoke to coach and author Jack Kanfield. He has published more than 250 books, including the New York Times bestselling Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Kanfield says he doesn’t experience the post-creation depression–for him, the experience is akin to having the kid finally go off to college. Once the book is done, he feels proud and enjoys seeing it out in the world.
But he has confronted his fair share of rejection when his first book in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series was turned down by 144 publishers before it was accepted. Here’s what he had to say about the the process of creating:
You are always likely to come up against challenges that are inherent with working on long projects. But as Richard Bach, the author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, said, ‘ You are never given a dream without also being given the power to make it come true.’ We all write for different purposes. I enjoy writing, the process of it is having fun, so I experience success in the experience of writing the book as much as in publishing it.
The poet and author of Rough Honey, Melissa Stein, has accompanied many writers through the process of finishing a book as their editor. She articulated that with every peak that is climbed, there is only one way to go, and that is through the valley. “What many emerging writers don’t realize is that after publication and, hopefully, success, there are just as many–if not more–reasons for insecurity and doubt and self-sabotage if we are inclined that way,” she says.
Raising that bar brings along a whole host of other issues, she explains.
Once you’re actually being read, there are questions like: What now? How does my current work measure up to what I’ve done before? Are my reasons for writing changing? Would my new literary journal editor friends still turn down work of mine they don’t think is up to par, and should I just avoid that potential awkwardness entirely? Life really does change with publication–just not necessarily in all the ways we expect.
Leah Lamb is a writer and storyteller based in the Bay Area. She consults and gives workshops on how to foster creativity in the workplace.